Moby Dick Review

York Theatre Royal – until Saturday 8th June 2024

Reviewed by Michelle Richardson


York Theatre Royal’s latest production, Moby Dick, is a new adaptation of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, by Sebastian Armesto. Bought to the stage by Simple8 and Royal & Derngate.

Ishmael (Mark Arends), the narrator of the tale, is desperate to sign on to a whaling ship. On meeting Queequeg (Tom Swale), they both manage to embark on the Pequod. It is a while before we meet its fanatical Captain, Ahab (Guy Rhys). Despite his orders, Ahab’s only mission is to capture the white whale, Moby Dick, who took his leg on a previous encounter, and exact his revenge. He is more and more possessed as the hunt continues.

As soon as entered the auditorium, the atmosphere was set, a mist encapsulating the almost empty stage. With scaffolding on stage, the cast bring on planks of wood, utilising, to create different sets, from ship decks to bars. Pieces of wood were also used to create a whale, or at least an outline. This was visually impressive, with the cast holding the pieces aloft.

The whole cast worked tirelessly throughout the show, with moving the set around, to their glorious sea shanties, which really lifted the show. The musical director, Jonathan Charles was busy as the ensemble, singing and playing several instruments. I would also like to mention William Pennington as one of the standout performers.

I couldn’t fault the acting at all, they were all excellent, but I did find the adaptation was lacking and unfortunately not as engaging as I would have liked. At times the intensive dialogue was a bit too shouty and I did struggle to hear one of the cast, their voice drowned out in the melee.

The show is thought provoking with the subject matter of killing whales, a topic that is still controversial to this day. The most striking part of the show was the end of Act One and the slaughtering of a whale. Visually it was shocking, and stunning how it was depicted, but also hit home how barbaric and bloody this practice is.

A show with some excellent sea shanties, acting, staging and physical theatre, that could have been more powerful in it’s storytelling.